Dividing Small Groups is a Dumb Idea!
Once in a while you read something that challenges what you have accepted without much question and makes you wonder why you didn’t see it before. I’ve only recently come across Larry Osborne but I’ve found his writings very refreshing and down to earth, full of common sense and wisdom. So, here’s why he thinks dividing (or to be trendy, ‘multiplying’) Small Groups is a dumb idea:
For decades it’s been an unquestioned canon within the small group movement that healthy groups multiply by continually growing and splitting into new groups. Groups that stay together too long are considered stagnant. Those that fail to aggressively add new members are written off as uncommitted to the Great Commission. Any group that insists on remaining together gets tagged as selfish.
Admittedly, dividing to multiply is an idea that looks good on paper. It sounds great at leadership conferences. It’s organic, mirroring the cellular growth of the human body. It offers the potential for unlimited kingdom expansion. It encourages people to reach out to the lost. It forces new leaders to step up and take the reins. No wonder most small group gurus, church consultants, and pastors with a passion for evangelism and church growth swear by the concept.
But [those in small groups] tend to see it differently – very differently. They generally hate the idea. They don’t swear by it. They swear at it. ... Except the pastors, staff members, and church leaders who are professionally responsible for the growth of the church, you’ll find that hardly anyone thinks it’s a good idea - especially those who are fortunate to have enough to found a group filled with significant relationships. To most of them it makes no sense at all. After finally finding some people with whom they’ve closely connected, they don’t want to split up and roll the relational dice once again. [...]
Actually, dividing to multiply can (and often does) work in the short run. But it usually only takes a couple of cycles before the process starts to lose steam and then stalls out. [...]
In most churches, when small groups are first launched, they’re sold as the panacea for the isolation and rootlessness so many of us feel, the perfect tool to provide true community and authentic relationships. ... But when ministry leaders convince people to join a small group to counteract the relational bankruptcy of our culture, and then immediately turn around and tell them that if they love Jesus, they’ll split the group right after it jells, the leaders are sending a mixed message at best, a dishonest one at worst.
Either people need the relational stability and deep relationships of a small group or they don’t. Church leaders can’t have it both ways, pushing people into groups to overcome the ills of a transient impersonal society and then asking them to ditch the solution not long after it starts to work, just to grow the church larger.
Osborne then discusses some of the groups at North Coast who have been together for decades who “haven’t grown stale. But their members have grown older together with a dignity and beauty reminiscent of a time when communities had stability and people had roots.”
Perhaps this doesn’t prove that multiplying small groups is wrong but it does make the point that there is no formula to growing a church. “If only we did [blank] the church would grow.” Maybe, but then again…